What are the five biggest challenges facing the US and how do those challenges impact Wisconsin?
As we look around our state, times are getting harder. Our middle class has been decimated and families are struggling to make ends meet and dealing with rising costs.
Too many people are one health care struggle away from bankruptcy.
The industries that propped up the middle class in Wisconsin are in crisis, from the decline of manufacturing to the decimation of family farms. Wisconsin lost a family farm every single day last year to bankruptcy, and the factories that sustained my family and gave us our ticket to the middle class have been shuttered.
Republicans are waging an all out war on a woman’s right to choose and our right to vote. In Wisconsin, losing Roe v. Wade will mean reverting back to a total abortion ban.
And we’re already feeling the effects of climate change around the country, something our famers know all too well as they deal with once-in-a-generation storms every year now. Right now it feels like the deck is stacked against us. But we don’t want handouts. We just want a fair shot. That’s why I’m running for Senate to rebuild the middle class and give everyone a fair shot at the American dream.
The top issue I consistently hear about from voters across Wisconsin is a lack of trust in government. Over 80% of Wisconities believe the federal government is fundamentally broken, as politicians in Washington demonize each other and polarize the American public because it is highly profitable for them to do so. As a result, the needs and priorities of Wisconsinites are ignored. Members are expected to spend a majority of their time fundraising, which comes at the expense of their core responsibilities: legislating, attending committee hearings, and providing constituent services. They are unresponsive to constituents’ needs.
Currently, due to gerrymandering, politicians choose their voters instead of voters choosing their elected representatives. With gerrymandered maps, 90% of Congressional seats are no longer competitive in the general election, disincentivizing legislation, even on issues with popular support.
These systemic problems disincentivize Members working together and result in a loss of dignity in our politics. While millionaires and billionaires in Congress fight among themselves, Wisconsinites’ priorities go unaddressed, from countering gun violence to addressing climate change, disability rights, and rising cost of goods and services. We need a populist, progressive, pro-democracy movement for reform to regain faith in government and expand dignity and opportunity.
Why are you the best candidate to help resolve those challenges in a way that benefits Wisconsin?
The biggest problem in Washington is that we have too many out of touch multi-millionaires in Congress who have sold out to the donors and special interest allies and don’t understand the experiences of working and middle class people. They can talk about rising costs and high drug prices, but are they really feeling any of the effects of these issues?
That’s why I’m running for Senate, because we deserve leaders who understand our struggles firsthand and can authentically connect with middle class and working class people across the state. I’ve been working on them long before I decided to run for Senate. We need someone ready to go on day 1.
I was born and raised in Milwaukee in a proud union household. My mother was a public school teacher and my dad worked third shift on the assembly line. I know the struggles of working people in Wisconsin because I share those struggles.
I may not have millions in personal wealth or the backing of corporate PACs, but what I do have is skin in the game. Because the people Ron Johnson has left behind are my family, my community, and my neighbors. And when you have skin in the game, you don’t stop fighting.
That’s what I’ve been doing throughout my career in Wisconsin, first as a community organizer in Milwaukee, then in the state assembly, and now as Lt. Governor. I have spent my career in service to this state focusing on the issues affecting us most, and that’s how I will serve Wisconsin in the Senate.
I’m proud that so many around the state and nation have stepped up to support me and my vision for Wisconsin. This includes AFSCME Council 32, AFT Local 212, Wisconsin Citizen Action, Indivisible, Progress North, MoveOn, the Working Families Party, and so many others. I’m also proud to have been endorsed by leaders like Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Gwen Moore, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, and over 140 local elected officials, labor leaders, and farmers.
I am a proud Wisconsinite, a national political reformer, a musician, and the son of Indian immigrants. I grew up in Waukesha County and found community through music, bridging racial, economic, and ideological divides by using the most important skill of a musician – listening. I learned since my first grassroots organizing meeting for Barack Obama that listening should also be the #1 skill of our elected officials. Before even announcing our campaign, we conducted a Dignity Tour across Wisconsin, listening to voters and developing our plan to make government work and Dignity for All Agenda.
I founded the Millennial Action Project (MAP) to pass legislation combating climate change. Nearly ten years later, I helped train over 2,000 young elected officials across 30 state legislatures and Congress. We introduced over 200 bipartisan bills in Congress alone, passing 35 into law. This means I bring the most legislative experience to this race. I know what it takes to achieve legislation that invests in clean energy, ends partisan gerrymandering, and counters gun violence because we did this and much more at MAP. Passing legislation requires building diverse coalitions. I have the life experience, relationships, and track record to not only develop big plans to improve the lives of all Wisconsinites, but also translate these into concrete legislation that I can pass into law and have tangible, positive impacts across the state.
What would be your most important legislative priorities once you make it to the Senate?
We need to rebuild our middle class by creating jobs, lowering costs, and making Wisconsin a leader in renewable energy and next-gen manufacturing. That means giving the middle class a tax cut to make our tax code work for working people, not for the ultra-wealthy and big corporations; it means investing in bringing manufacturing back home and getting rid of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas; and it means lowering the cost of essentials like child care, and making health care and prescription drugs more affordable and accessible by passing Medicare for All.
We also must urgently abolish the filibuster so we can respond to Republican attacks on our voting rights and Roe v. Wade, protect workers’ rights to organize and bargain, and finally pass long-need common sense gun reform.
I have committed, since announcing our campaign next to our former Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, that my first piece of legislation will get big money out of politics and restore integrity to our election system. My proposal to make government work for all Wisconsinites includes: a ban on Members fundraising while Congress is in session, Final Five Voting, term limits, an end to legalized bribery in Congress, filibuster reform, and steps to enable more working people and non-traditional candidates to run for office. These reforms will incentivize Members to actually do their job of legislating, level the playing field for a fairer economy, and make Congress responsive to ordinary Americans.
These fundamental reforms to our democracy would also enable progress towards other progressive priorities. Our Dignity for All Agenda covers environmental dignity, economic dignity, and human dignity. This agenda includes a 100% clean electricity standard by 2030, the cessation of federal fossil fuel subsidies, tuition-free vocational and technical education, direct federal investments in entrepreneurs and small farmers, comprehensive gun licensing, a true second shot for people exiting the criminal justice system, and finally updating the Americans With Disabilities Act.
What kind of experience and fresh perspective on foreign and international policy issues would you bring?
My position as Lt. Governor has given me unique exposure to foreign leaders as I have regularly hosted foreign leaders and foreign dignitaries, showing them the great state of Wisconsin. I have also had the privilege of working on the issue of climate change on the international level, learning from and coordinating with our allies on the international stage to address one of the biggest problems of our time.
The most pressing foreign policy issue of our time is protecting democracy and the free world from autocrats determined on stamping it out. In Wisconsin, we have had a front row seat to domestic attacks on democracy from the Republican legislature. That’s the leadership and experience we need in the Senate to combat attacks on democracy on the international stage. Recently, I was very proud to be endorsed by former Director of European Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council Lt. Colonel (Retired) Alex Vindman, who endorsed my campaign because of our shared commitment to democracy.
Our focus on Dignity for All extends beyond our borders – we must preserve human rights at home and abroad. My foreign policy approach centers on multilateral cooperation, deterrence of armed conflicts, and humanitarian support. We must take an empirical, long view of our actions, leveraging our power intelligently to couple a 21st century military force with strong global partnerships to serve our interests and values and deter potential threats.
The recession of our democracy domestically impacts our ability to lead globally. We must fix our democracy, starting with money in politics, to reduce the corrupting influence of our military-industrial complex and decrease division and political dysfunction. We must show the world that Americans are unified in our commitment to and willingness to improve our democracy at home.
My experience leading young American legislators and human rights activists internationally and service on the Advisory Board of UW-Madison’s International Division uniquely prepares me for responsibilities of a U.S. Senator. My unique approach was highlighted in Retired Brigadier General Legwold’s endorsement and a recent Cap Times piece, “[his] long view led Olikara to speak frequently about the Russia-Ukraine crisis last year, when few of the other candidates were paying attention.”
Why are you the best candidate to beat Ron Johnson and how do you plan to do it (specifics please)?
Wisconsin is tired of being represented a self-serving multi-millionaire like Ron Johnson, who has only delivered for himself and his wealthy donors. We deserve a leader who has a firsthand understanding of the challenges working families face every day and who will put Wisconsin first. That’s what I’ve done as Lt. Governor, traveling the state to deliver pandemic relief for farmers, workers, and families. And that’s what I’ll do in the Senate.
Voters know they can trust me because I share their struggles and I’ve spent the last ten years fighting for them, building trust and credibility across the state.
In 2018, I helped kick Scott Walker out office with the highest midterm turnout this state has ever seen. That’s what we’ll need to do again this year.
I am still a community organizer at heart. So I know that organizing and showing up everywhere is how we beat Ron Johnson. We have to take our message to every single community, not just in Democratic strongholds. Because at the end of the day, despite our differences, we all have more in common with each other than we do with an out of touch multi-millionaire like Ron Johnson.
That’s why I’m so proud of the people-powered, grassroots campaign we’re building, raising more money than the rest of the primary field combined with an average donation of $41 dollars. That is the grassroots excitement we will need to turn out voters and beat Ron Johnson one and for all.
First and most importantly, I give Democrats the best chance of winning the general election. With a Democratic president, Democratic majorities in Congress, and rising economic frustrations, Democrats have a structural disadvantage in midterm elections. Like in the Virginia gubernatorial race, Democrats will lose if we run conventional, consultant-driven campaigns. The winning Democrat not only needs to energize the party faithful, but also attract an additional 10% margin from Independents and Republicans. In the words of our top endorser, former Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton, “Steven is the one Democratic candidate capable of rebuilding trust and putting together a winning campaign.”
I have spent the last ten years building diverse coalitions of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to achieve popular legislation, from investing in veteran skills training and business development to achieving sweeping criminal justice reforms. We are growing the electorate beyond the active Democratic base to include Wisconsin’s Exhausted Majority, the 80% of Wisconsin voters who believe the federal government is fundamentally broken and will not solve the problems we are facing and are looking for a new kind of candidate.
I will build on the diverse support I already have across Wisconsin, from elected officials and farmers in Lafayette, Green, and Outagamie Counties, to educators and activists in Brown, Dane, and Milwaukee Counties. Our strongest base of volunteers is in the WOW counties, the voters who got Democrats elected to statewide office in 2018 and nationally in 2020. Olikara for Senate is built to win in November.
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